The HD era of consoles well and truly hit its stride in the last few years, but without Nintendo it could be argued that this has led to what feels like an endless series of drab, brown and grey, corridor based shooters. Of course, this is a broad generalization, Nintendo aren’t the only developers of colourful platform games, and there have been some absolutely brilliant and visually varied shooters, third-person action titles and RPGs of late. But outside of the Wii, there has been a general lack of, well, colour.
The genre most associated with bright and colourful visuals, the platformer, has been pretty much absent in the HD space. When it comes to the 360 and to a lesser extent the PS3, the platformer has been pretty much relegated to bad movie tie-ins for the latest generic pop culture referencing DreamWorks movies the and the more intelligent pop culture referencing Pixar films. de Blob 2 literally puts players into this scenario, as the game world is presented devoid of colour, with the player taking control of a charismatic blob (no, really) as they help bring colour back to the world, one structure at a time.
And you don’t really need to have played the original de Blob to get the most out of this sequel, which itself felt more like a proof of concept than a fully fleshed out game. Here the story takes back seat to gameplay and although naturally you’ll be saving the world (it wouldn’t be a videogame otherwise), as far as details go that’s pretty much all you need to know. Ok, this is a review and you’re probably still wondering what de Blob is all about. Well, basically the bad guys don’t like colour, and led by a grey General blob thing they’ve taken control, removed all colour and enslaved, an entire population of innocent blob things. Sure being a family friendly game (see: aimed at the young ones) leads to a, excuse the pun, colourful cast of characters and comic situations, but most of the story driven sequences and cut-scenes in de Blob 2 feel like excerpts from a Saturday morning cartoon. Which is actually a good thing because all discerning adults secretly know and love Saturday morning cartoons, right?
From the outset the gameplay is kept quite simple, with a clear focus on controlled creativity. The pace is very leisurely from the outset with de Blob acting as a virtual paint brush that can be dipped in various coloured ink pools and then used to slowly bring colour to the world. Much like the original early parts of the game present themselves as a virtual colouring book where the creativity comes in players using various colours to accent the environment, whilst also adding instrumental layers to the music. Musically this basic gameplay concept is wonderfully presented, as painting three buildings in succession red will add saxophone riffs and melodies to the funk driven background music. Painting the same buildings blue will change the melody to guitar, and painting them yellow will bring out a trumpet solo.
And the more the game world comes alive, the more prominent the background music becomes, paving the way to some great and genuinely toe-tapping jazz-infused funk. The game world literally comes alive with colour and music. It’s worth highlighting this aspect of the game not only due to its wonderful execution, but in the way it brings about a very distinct change of pace. Allowing the player certain musical freedoms within the process of painting over buildings, landmarks and structures adds weight to overall message of the game, and that is, life is colourful. And before long you’ll find yourself mixing your favourite colours to hear your favourite instruments, or even just to take part in a jazz-flute solo ala Ron Burgundy. You stay classy, San Diego.
But of course if this was all de Blob had to offer things would get stale pretty quickly, and thankfully the developers seemed to have taken a page out of Nintendo’s long and storied history with platforming perfection. Most notably with the Super Mario Galaxy series by introducing puzzles, combat, and 2D-inspired platform hopping. Some of the best pure gaming moments in de Blob 2 comes from the side scrolling sections where players enter various buildings to take part in some old fashioned timed jumping, puzzle solving and switch hitting. As new enemies and moves are introduced, these sections of the game become more and more complex leading to some great level design that stays true to the game’s overarching colour-based themes.
As the game progresses so does the number of moves and power-ups that are available to the player, adding to various natural introductions to new types of enemies or ways in which to interact and move around each level. But unfortunately the game isn’t without fault as developer Blue Tongue doesn’t really take the difficulty progression far enough, and hits the figurative brakes way too early. Sure, being primarily aimed at a younger market may lead to an overall degree of ease to the gameplay but without a clear difficulty progression throughout the entire course of the game, level design, no matter how great, does suffer. Mastering this technique no doubt comes with experience, and consequently when compared to Super Mario Galaxy or even the more recent Donkey Kong Country reboot, de Blob does fall a little short of the mark. A small matter that hopefully, be addressed in the third game.
In keeping with the colour theme of the game each overall level is refreshingly based on real-world settings, albeit presented in the game’s distinct visual style. As opposed to adhering to the usual shopping list of lava, water, ice, and cave worlds found in most games of this nature, de Blob 2 starts off in its version of a peaceful tropical island town and then moves effortlessly through to universities, office complexes, soft drink plants, and TV stations. On paper these may not sound too exciting or even exotic but their presentation here, certainly begs to differ. The obvious changes in environment lead to more varied and intricate level design, but coupled with a visual style that’s brimming with creativity and most importantly confidence, each new level brings with it a sense of exploration that in comparison to the aforementioned Nintendo flagship titles, holds up remarkably well.
Perhaps as a Wii titles, de Blob 2 may get a little lost in the crowd, but as a HD title on the 360 and PS3, this is definitely a game that anyone who grew up playing the platformers of old should check out. As a sequel the premise of bringing colour to the game world may now seem a little less fresh, but developer Blue Tongue have really shown their skill in building a viable game around this concept that outdoes the original in every way. Make no mistakes about it, de Blob 2 is a great game, and worth a look because it fills a void in the current HD gaming line-up.
Consequently this makes playing de Blob 2 on the 360 (or PS3) far more impressive than its Wii counterpart, even outside of the noticeable upgrade in the visual department. For the more hardcore gamers, where a long stretch of time has been spent in grey and brown corridors, blasting away at nameless enemies with high-tech weaponry, using the protagonist as a virtual paint brush, will feel almost therapeutic.